Not to downplay pampering, but self-care is more than taking bubble baths and drinking hot tea. At their core, self-care habits both reflect and enhance our sense of self-worth. We often take a narrow view of self-care, seeing it as spoiling oneself or indulgence, perhaps even in ways that are counter to long term health. Culturally, self-care is linked to products and consumption, available to those with a lot of time and money. Taken more broadly, self-care is a collection of behaviors that prioritize you health and happiness.
Self-Care is an Attitude
Making time to care for yourself is evidence of a desire to develop, strengthen, support, discover, and cherish your truest self. Knowing how to take care of yourself in each moment, and through time, depends on an awareness and acceptance of yourself as you have been, are, and could become.
Self-care requires taking accountability for your own well-being. In many ways, our culture celebrates self-sacrifice. Putting others’ needs above your own is a disservice, not only to yourself, but also to those you are giving to at your own expense.
Caring for yourself first is an act of generosity to those you care about.
Self-Care is a Priority
It is easy, in our fast-paced world, to stretch oneself too thin. We can end up dry, depleted, exhausted. At times we have nothing left to give to ourselves, much less others.
We feel pulled in all directions: family, work, and school commitments; friends; and romantic or sexual partners. The list goes on.
Technology allows us to stay constantly connected. We are checking texts, reading e-mails, updating our social media status, and reading (just the headlines) of what sounds like good articles. Culturally, we have learned to maintain relationships in, as Sherry Turkle has pointed out, sips rather than gulps.
Most of us rarely disconnect. When we do, it is often because we were explicitly asked to during a meeting, or before a movie starts at the theater (does that even count as disconnection…).
Although we spend time alone, we don’t really ever have to just be with ourselves.
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
Caring and kindness toward oneself can take many forms. Because we are unique, self-care is understood and implemented vastly differently from person to person.
Self-care involves finding your inner child and your inner critic, identifying and being willing to feel all of your emotions. It invites you to forgive yourself for making mistakes, failing to achieve goals, and being a beautifully imperfect human being.
It is a branching out, a stretching of oneself, but it also involves letting go. We may need to rid ourselves of outdated habits, ideas of who we are, who we should be, and our limiting beliefs.
Developing Self-Care Habits is a Practice
“Sometimes self-care involves forgiving ourselves for past mistakes, setting boundaries in relationships, making that medical or dental appointment you’ve been putting off, saying no to a fun night out because you’re sleep deprived, or choosing to walk away from a job or relationship you have outgrown.”Robyn L. Gobin, PhD
The Self Care Prescription: Powerful Solutions to Manage Stress, Reduce Anxiety & Increase Wellbeing
In practice, self-care involves three key components:
- Cultivating skills and abilities
- Forming or breaking habits
- Engaging in, or disengaging from, activities
Cultivating Skills & Abilities
Skills and abilities you may wish to acquire, or enhance, as a way to take better care of yourself, include:
- emotional regulation
“When loving-kindness bumps into suffering and stays loving,Kristen Neff, PhD and Christopher Germer, PhD
it becomes compassion. Both are expressions of goodwill.”
The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive
Forming, and Breaking Self-Care Habits
Habits that help you care for yourself, and prioritize self-care practices, include:
- asserting boundaries
- calling loved ones regularly
- going to bed early
- healthy eating
- making your bed
- meditating each evening
- only checking work emails during work hours
- setting aside “me” time
- Spending time outside
- taking bubble baths (and drinking hot tea!)
- getting up to walk every hour (or so)
“Touch your inner space, which is nothingness, as silent and empty as the sky; it is your inner sky.Osho Akash
Once you settle down in your inner sky, you have come home, and a great maturity arises in your actions, in your behavior.
Then whatever you do has grace in it. Then whatever you do is a poetry in itself.
You live poetry; your walking becomes dancing, your silence becomes music.”
Maturity: The Responsibility of Being Oneself
Habits that could hinder your progress, or encourage a lack of care for yourself, include:
- escaping through (insert vice here)
- nail biting
- sleep deprivation
- substance use
“…sleep deprivation is an illegal torture method outlawed by the Geneva Convention and international courts, but most of us do it to ourselves.”Ryan Hurd
Dream Like a Boss: Sleep Better, Dream More, and Wake Up to What Matters Most
Engaging in, or Disengaging from, Activities
Rediscovering or engaging in new healthy, or introspective, activities, such as:
Disengaging from unhealthy or self-depreciating activities, such as those that:
- are interfering with health or happiness
- are too time consuming
- have become more obligation than enjoyment
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”Abraham Lincoln
Investing in Yourself Can Have a Profound Impact
For much of my life, I allowed self-care to ebb and flow. I focused on it when I was in pain, if my body gave out, if I became completely overwhelmed, when I was hitting a new low in some area, or when I was just too sick to ignore my needs.
When I started to manage and seek relief from my symptoms associated with IBS, I realized self-care was no longer optional. In some ways, IBS was a blessing in the form of a wakeup call. There was a time when I could do well in some areas, while neglecting others. Today, if I want to feel good (and I do) I have to maintain a fairly high level of self-awareness and actively engage in self-care.
I wish I had put more effort into self-care sooner. I’ve had to take a tough look at some parts of myself and my personality, accepting that they do more harm than good. I wouldn’t hold myself up as a self-care guru (some days I would), but I have intentionally practiced it enough to appreciate the process. Because I now understand how much time and effort change requires, I celebrate even the smallest successes.
Investing in caring for myself has had a profound impact on my life. From being less of a people pleaser and having more inner strength, to taking the time to meditate and eat nutritious home cooked food, I’ve really shifted how I prioritize myself. As a result of allocating time for introspection, journaling, and using affirmations, I’ve learned to be compassionate with myself. I have become acutely aware of the ways I dismiss, neglect, ignore, and limit myself as I have started to act more like a friend than a foe by valuing myself, and treating my alone time as precious.
I intend to continue introducing new self-care habits until setting aside “me time” becomes as natural as setting aside time for others has always been.